Ever since the current BBC Proms season was first announced, Multi-Story’s upcoming performance has been the most regularly mentioned and trailed of all this summer’s concerts, and you can see why the BBC would want everyone to know that they were going over to Peckham, London SE15 to broadcast from a car park. Such had been the media lead-up to this, that when conductor Christopher Stark first began to move his hands (with some tricky upbeats to get everyone in the right place) I thought (and perhaps he did too) “at last the music has actually started.”
Even though the group regularly sell out in their regular summer series at this venue (of which this is the sixth season) this was a super-full event, and the Prom programme was being previewed in the noon performance I attended, before being broadcast live in the afternoon. It was hard to tell how many of the audience were regular attenders, interested locals, devoted Prommers, or all three, but the communal good cheer of the audience was notable. Part of this may have been the fun of climbing up to the top of the car park, with its breathtaking views (and this year, attractive new pink paint in the stairwells) for a bit of an adventure. But I think we also must give the credit for euphoria to Steve Reich, who wrote all the music on the one-hour programme.
It was interesting to see that all the music chosen had been written by 1983. My reaction to Reich of that period is usually the same, and happened all over again during this (excellent) performance. After a bright initial moment, the melodic material seems slight, the harmony becomes foreseeable, whatever phase it’s in, and I lapse into reverie – usually a pleasant one, because of the cheerful up-tempo major-ness of everything. But at some point my ear is irresistibly caught again by some orchestral detail and I start to listen anew, suddenly fully involved. This time it was to the noble sound, and sight, of huge static chords being occasionally played in the background by a row of four trumpets in Music for a Large Ensemble (1978). We have to thank Steve Reich, in such early days, for creating music, and lots of it, which would work perfectly under these ‘contemporary’ circumstances and still sound modern forty years later. We also have to salute Multi-Story Orchestra for this trumphant event, and for their inspiring work in southeast London.